College apartment-hunting with our daughter


As I blogged about last week, our daughter will be off to Eastern Illinois University this fall. As Charleston, Illinois is located more than three hours from home, picking out an apartment was the next item on our to-do list. Housing at the EIU dorms is $9176 per year, and this price also includes 12 meals per week. Our daughter’s preference was to live in an apartment over the dorm though. She likes lots of personal space, and she wanted more of a home environment versus living the dorm life. I also believe that her monthly cost of living in an apartment will be lower than in the dorms.

When we started looking at apartments, we were pleasantly surprised to see how reasonably priced off-campus living is at Eastern. We began apartment hunting in March by looking at properties online before heading to campus. There are several property management groups in Charleston, and together with our daughter, we browsed their sites and made a list of apartments and houses that were both vacant for Fall 2016 and reasonably priced. (If you’re apartment-hunting for the EIU area too, some of the sites we used were EIProps, CharlestonILApts and Unique Properties.)

During our online hunt, we saw that most 1 and 2-bedroom apartments were priced between $250 and $450/month, and many of the buildings had at least some of the utilities included. Most also had coin-op laundry facilities in the basements.  We found that most of the apartments and rental houses came furnished if they were shared-housing properties, meaning, the property management group could assign you to a group of roommates to share a house or a larger apartment. However, most of the 1 and 2-bedroom apartments come unfurnished. One property group said they had a limited number of furniture pieces that you could request on a first-come, first-serve basis at the beginning of the lease, and if the pieces you wanted were available, they’d bring them to you for a $50 fee.  This isn’t a problem for us — our daughter’s been collecting our old furniture for her apartment for quite a while now, and she’s always planned to furnish her new home herself.

We headed back to campus a couple weeks alter to tour the apartments on our daughter’s list. Of course, that $250/month bargain one-bedroom apartment building was at the top of the list, but my husband vetoed it right away when we got to the building. He took one look at the white shoe-polish graffiti in many of the building’s windows, broken mini-blinds, and general post-party atmosphere on the apartment grounds (there was also a mattress & blankets in the yard where it appeared some sort of under-the-stars sleepover had just taken place — I should have snapped a photo!)  and he said “Nope!” Now, of course, we know the clientele and party-enthusiastic residents could change from semester to semester or year to year, but he’d already seen enough of that building. 

We continued on.


The next apartment was on the top floor of a large converted house. We liked the location of this building, but the apartment had a bit of a strange layout as there were two main rooms divided by a pair of French doors. Neither room had a bedroom-sized-closet, although there was a small coat closet near the front door. It really would be up to the tenant as to which room would be used for the bedroom and which one would be the living room, but if you wanted the bedroom to have a closet, then the front door would have led right into the bedroom space with the kitchen adjoining the bedroom. This apartment rented for $425/month unfurnished. (The furniture in all of the apartments we toured was there for staging.)


One issue I noticed right away with this apartment was its older, two-prong electrical outlets. Some of the outlets in the kitchen and near the window air conditioner unit had been upgraded to three-prong outlets with ground, but other outlets throughout were still two-prong. Think about how many things have three-prong plugs these days, or at the very least, have polarized plugs with one side larger than the other. She would have needed to stock up on grounding adapters to plug many of her devices in.

Our daughter’s biggest issue with this apartment, though, was the kitchen. It had some large windows (good!) but due to their placement, the kitchen had a strange layout with no room for a kitchen table at all. The property management group had some end tables stored in the kitchen on the day we toured, as again, this apartment was in the process of being staged.


Looking past the assortment of tables currently stored here, where would you put a kitchen table in this space so that it wouldn’t be hit by either the refrigerator door or the oven door? This layout might not be a problem for someone who doesn’t cook often, but our daughter loves to cook and bake. She’s planning on cooking the majority of her meals, and when we got a new kitchen table and chairs last year, she also claimed our old dining set for her apartment. She vetoed this one both for the odd kitchen layout and the lack of closet space.

One of the benefits of touring apartments with a local property management group is that they may also help you in ways you hadn’t expected. On this day, we spent the afternoon with a representative from EI Properties, and as he got to know us and drove us around to see various apartments, he asked which buildings the majority of our daughter’s classes would be in. When she told him, he said there was another apartment on that side of town that we hadn’t put on our list, but he thought its proximity to that end of campus might appeal to her. 


We headed over to the next apartment, and we were pleasantly surprised to learn that this two-bedroom apartment was more spacious than any of the others we’d toured this day — and, it was a reasonable $350/month. (Even more reasonable when split with a roommate!) There was plenty of closet space in this one, and it also had built-in desks in both bedrooms. The living room and kitchen were both pretty good-sized. (No, that couch and table don’t stay — they’re here for staging too!)


There’s no dishwasher, but then again, none of the apartments we toured had one. There’s no central air either, but that’s not a huge issue as she’s not planning to live here through the summer. Really, the only negative we could come up with for this apartment was the minimal countertop space. Where would you place and plug in a microwave or coffee pot in here? The limited counter space was not a deal-breaker though as the rest of the apartment was very good. (Plus, I’ve already got a plan to expand her counter space on the other side of the fridge.)

We asked our daughter, “What do you think?” 

“I like it. I think this is the one.” 

We headed back to the property management office and asked our representative if he preferred for us, the parents, to sign the lease — or would the apartment be leased to our daughter? “No, the leases are always in the tenants’ names,” he said. It was fun to watch our daughter sign her first lease! My husband asked the rep if they run credit checks on the students who sign leases, and the rep said “No. Most of them wouldn’t pass a credit check anyway!” He added that they rarely have tenants default on apartments, simply because it’s a college town and the students do need a place to live while going to school. 

I’m glad we started apartment-hunting in March of this year. It’s now June, and just three months later, browsing many of the EIU apartment rentals’ sites shows very few apartments left for Fall 2016. If you’re looking at off-campus apartments for your student, I’d recommend getting this process done as soon as possible to maximize the number and kinds of properties available to you. 

I’d also recommend taking a tape measure and a camera (or phone) when you’re touring apartments. Take lots of measurements and photos! We measured all of her windows for curtains or window treatments, plus door frames and doorways to make sure our old couch will fit through — some of the buildings we toured were older with narrow doors. It’s also nice to have a set of dimensions to refer to for the rooms, as we noticed very few of the property management websites had full floorplans with apartment dimensions or square footage online. It will also help you remember things like where electrical outlets are located and if you’ll need to bring power strips or grounding adapters to plug things in.


We also took note of things like overhead lights in rooms — most of the apartments we toured did not have them in the living room or bedrooms, so it’s also a good idea to note which rooms you may need to bring lamps for. Our daughter’s apartment has a single, one-bulb wall sconce in each bedroom, but she’ll still want some supplemental lighting for these rooms too. 

Now, our daughter is busy checking off her list of what she needs to buy, bring, and pack for her big move. She’s excited! So are we. It’s hard to believe move-in day is less than two months away…

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  1. Lisa v says

    My daughter is transferring to EIU this fall, she opted for the dorms after having a hard time finding a roommate that didn’t just want to party. Well wishes for your daughter and her new journey ?

  2. robin says

    My daughter will be a senior at EIU and she lives in a house with 4 other girls! My daughter has LOVED her time at EIU and with only one semester left (she will be student teaching in the Chicagoland area during the spring semester) it is a bittersweet time for her. I wish your daughter all the best and hope her experience at EIU is just as awesome as my daughter’s has been. Good luck to all of you!

  3. Beth says

    I’ve been advised by a very wise woman (my favorite cashier at Jewel) that you make sure that the landlord confirms by email or any other writing method that they have rec’d the list of problems. If the problems aren’t fixed than before she moves out make sure she gets another confirmation from the landlord that she will not be charged for any of these problems when she leaves. Apparently, a lot of landlords try to take advantage of students when they move out and try to keep their deposits. My son’s apartment was filthy and had lots of problem and we went back and forth with the landlord until he said that my son had nothing to worry about and would get his full deposit back.

  4. Juli says

    It’s an exciting time, and I’m happy for your daughter!
    I was wondering if your daughter will be couponing for herself for food and other necessities?
    I also have a daughter going into an apartment this fall.

    • says

      Yes, she’s planning to! The stores in Charleston are different than what we’ve got at home — they have a Walmart, an Aldi, a Save-A-Lot, and a couple family-owned grocery stores. As much as she can coupon, she’s planning to. We are working on a monthly budget for her food & essentials, and she’ll also move in with a pretty well-stocked apartment as far as things like paper products, cleaning products, etc — she’s going to bring those things from home (Mom’s stockpile!)

  5. Audrey says

    Really enjoying this series of articles! You have given us a lot to think about. I never would have thought to look at the outlets, count how many, or measure the windows and rooms. Love going along “with you” on this journey!

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